(January 18, 1884 – June 3, 1967), was a British
author and journalist, best known for writing the Swallows
and Amazons series of children's books, which tell
of school-holiday adventures of children, mostly in the
Lake District and the Norfolk Broads areas of England.
The novels are often regarded as stories about sailing.
However, whilst most of the books contain some sailing
incidents, in half the books, this is only a minor
element or nonexistent. Other common themes are fishing
and camping. The books remain popular to the point that
they provide a basis of a tourist industry around
Windermere and Coniston
Water — the two lakes that Ransome used as the
basis for his fictional North Country lake.
author Arthur Ransome
was born in Leeds, where his father lectured as a
Professor of History. His father died in 1897, which had
a lasting effect on Ransome who always tried to overcome
his belief in his father's lack of confidence in his
abilities. Ransome received his formal education first
in Windermere and then at Rugby School (where he lived
in Lewis Carroll's study room) but did not entirely
enjoy the experience - due to his poor vision, lack of
athletic skill, and limited academic achievement. He
attended Yorkshire College, his father's college, for a
year studying chemistry. However, he abandoned the
college and went to London to become a writer. He took
low-paying jobs as an office assistant in a publishing
company and as editor of a failing magazine while
writing and becoming a member of the literary scene of
He became a friend of W.G. Collingwood, writer artist
and secretary to John Ruskin. Collingwood lived at
Lanehead, beside Coniston Water, and it was here that
Ransome learned to sail. Ransome's favourite childhood
book was W.G. Collingwood's Thorstein of the Mere, which
was set around Coniston.
After an unsuccessful marriage, he went to Russia, where
he met his future wife Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, who
had been Trotsky's secretary.
1924, he gained a divorce, and was able to marry Evgenia
and come back to The Lake District, living first in the
Winster Valley. Apart from two periods when he went
South, he lived in Cumbria for the rest of his life,
finding inspiration and settings for Swallows and
Amazons. His last house was Hill Top at Haverthwaite.
Arthur Ransome based his book 'Swallows and Amazons' on
Coniston Water, and much fun may be had trying to
discover the locations of the stories. There are special
interest cruises on the Coniston Launch which explore
the locations used by Arthur Ransome in his books. The
Steam Yacht Gondola which sails around Coniston, gave
the idea for Captain Flint's houseboat, although this
was eventually modelled on Esperance (now at Windermere
Arthur Ransome died on 3rd June 1967, and his grave is
in St Paul's Church, Rusland. His wife Evgenia
(1894-1975) is also buried here.
of the best-known children's authors of last century was
suspected of being a spy by British intelligence.
Ransome wrote the book Swallows and Amazons in 1930, but
also worked in the Soviet Union (which Russia used to be
a part of) for British newspapers. While there British
spy bosses used him to send them information, but were
worried he worked for the Soviets too. They later
decided that Ransome was loyal to Britain, but was very
interested in the Soviet way of life.
Blackett is a 28 feet long, 7
ton, Bermuda rigged Hillyard sailing cutter built in 1931 and now owned
and operated by The
Nancy Blackett Trust.
named Spindrift at her launch in 1931 (and then renamed Electron
by her next owner), she was bought by children’s author Arthur Ransome
in 1934 and renamed Nancy Blackett after a major character in his
Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books. He sailed her mostly on
the east coast of England and the southern North Sea from her home port of
Pin Mill near Harwich.
is most notable for being the original for the fictional yacht Goblin
in Ransome’s book We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea which recounts a
voyage across the North Sea to the Dutch port of Flushing. Ransome's
cruises also provided material for another book Secret Water set in
the Walton backwaters.
sold Nancy Blackett in 1939 but always said that she was "the
best little ship". In 1988, she was found rotting in Scarborough and
restored. The Nancy Blackett Trust was formed as a charitable organization
to preserve and sail her and to promote the sort of sailing activities
dear to Ransome.
is now a Registered Historic Vessel, despite the fact that her size is
below the current minimum for admission to the Register.
National Register of Historic Vessels, set up in 1995, currently limits
its criteria for inclusion to ships over 40ft in length, over 40 years old
and built in the British Isles. This was mainly in the interests of
keeping the task of registration to manageable proportions, and exceptions
are very occasionally admitted. Nancy is one of an exclusive group of
around 100 non-qualifying vessels on the Register which currently totals
around 2,000 ships.
National Historic Ships Committee deliberated long over Nancy's size, but
eventually concluded "that her pedigree and associations qualified
her for Certificate in all respects other than her size."
Accordingly, she is recorded on the Register, but has not received a
certificate. The scope of the register is to be extended in the next few
years, and full inclusion, and certification can then be expected.
on the Register confers no benefits in itself, though it may be of use in
any application to a grant-making body such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Nor does it impose any special responsibilities, such as those attached to
listed buildings, although it might be regarded as reinforcing a moral
responsibility for preservation which we have already imposed on
ourselves. It does confer a general recognition of Nancy's significance,
and it is gratifying to have our own, perhaps biased, estimation of her
worth formally confirmed by the maritime heritage establishment.
the Nancy Blackett Trust
Blackett is one of the boats once owned by Arthur Ransome,
author of the 'Swallows and Amazons' books. He named her after his
favourite character, and he put her in his book 'We Didn’t Mean to
Go to Sea', as the Goblin, the
boat in which four children sail across the North Sea to Holland.
Recently rescued and restored, Nancy
Blackett is now preserved and maintained by The Nancy Blackett
Trust, as a beautiful and important part of our literary and maritime
heritage, and with the aims of inspiring interest in Arthur Ransome
and his books, and encouraging young people to enjoy sailing.
She is regularly on show at maritime festivals, and sails hundreds of
miles each year, crewed by Trust members. To find out more about the Nancy
Blackett, and how you can become involved with her, please look
around this site.
The patron of the Nancy Blackett Trust is Dame Ellen
are the principal vital statistics of the Nancy
on deck: 28ft 6in (8.68m)
8ft 1in (2.46m)
4ft 6in (1.53m)
(Thames) tonnage: 6.80
Official Number: 16856 - from 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea' by Arthur
Blackett and Arthur Ransome History
Nancy Blackett was Arthur
Ransome's favourite amongst the various cruising yachts he owned
during his lifetime. He named her after his favourite character, the
adventurous, irrepressible leader of the Amazon Pirates who first
appears in 'Swallows and Amazons', and again in several of his other
books for children.
She provided him with the inspiration for possibly his best book, 'We
Didn't Mean to Go to Sea', widely regarded as a classic of both
children's and seafaring literature, and appears in it, lightly
disguised as the Goblin, which
plays a leading role in the book. Its action takes place almost
entirely aboard the little boat, as the four children seek to sail her
across the North Sea, at night, in a storm without any adult aboard.
Ransome sailed the course himself in Nancy,
and worked on the book aboard her, while living near Pin Mill on the
River Orwell in Suffolk, where the story starts.
Nancy is immediately
recognisable from Ransome’s description, illustrations and many key
"I say, just look
down,"said Titty. They looked down into the cabin of the little
ship, at blue mattresses on bunks on either side, at a little table
with a chart tied down to it with string, at a roll of blankets in one
of the bunks, at a foghorn in another, and at a heap of dirty plates
and cups and spoons in a little white sink opposite the tiny galley,
where a saucepan of water was simmering on one of the two burners of a
little cooking stove. Many visitors to Nancy like to identify the
bunks used by the individual Walker children (girls in particular have
a penchant for Titty’s bunk - fore-cabin, port) and other features.
Origins and Life With the Ransomes
Nancy Blackett was built in
1931, by Hillyards of Littlehampton. She is 28ft long, plus bowsprit,
with an unusual Bermudian cutter rig. Exactly like the Goblin,
she has roller-reefing, operated by a little brass handle, and, down
below, four bunks with blue mattresses, and a little white sink
opposite a tiny galley.
She had already had two owners, and two names - Spindrift
and Electron - before Ransome
found and bought her in 1934, for £525. He was at the time in the
process of moving from the Lake District to East Anglia, with the aim
of doing some sea sailing. His delivery voyage with his new boat, from
Poole Harbour to the East Coast, was hair-raising, as his Biography
and Letters reveal: gales, damage, and an occasion where the
navigation lights blew out, and he used a torch shone through a red
plastic plate to ‘frighten off the Flushing-Harwich steamer’ - an
incident which eventually appeared in 'We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea'.
Ransome got plenty of good sailing out of Nancy.
As well as his research trip to Holland, he took her round to
Portsmouth and back with his friend Richard Rouse, a voyage he wrote
up under the title 'Saturday to Saturday' for the Cruising Association
Bulletin. But one of his favourite destinations was the Walton
Backwaters, just a few miles down the coast from his home on the
Orwell. He would sail down, and anchor there, ostensibly to work, but
often yielded to the temptation to do a little exploring in his
dinghy, Coch-y-Bonddhu. The
Backwaters formed the setting for his next book, 'Secret Water', which
includes a brief appearance by the Goblin.
The Ransomes rarely hung on to boats, or houses, for very long. By
1937, in deference to his wife Evgenia’s desire for a larger galley,
Arthur had ordered a larger yacht, Selina
King, to be built at King’s boatyard in Pin Mill, and sold Nancy
in 1938. He retained his affection for her, however - perhaps because
she was the one boat out of the seven he owned which he had not bought
"Fools build and wise men buy," he once said, but it was
advice he rarely followed himself.
Rescue and Restoration
Over the following half-century, Nancy
Blackett had five different owners, who mostly cared for and
enjoyed her. But by 1988 she had been allowed to deteriorate in
Scarborough harbour, and it was here that she was discovered in
near-derelict condition - planks worn and holed, hatch-covers gone,
water pouring in and out of her - by Michael Rines, who decided to
purchase and restore her, though at that time, knowing nothing of
Arthur Ransome or her connection with him. By pure chance, he lived on
the Orwell, almost next-door to the house Ransome had lived in when he
owned Nancy, and he brought
her back to the Orwell to be restored.
After a year of hard work, she was in good enough condition to be
exhibited at the East Coast Boat Show, and Mike Rines held a
celebratory dinner at the Butt & Oyster in Pin Mill, to which he
invited many influential Arthur Ransome devotees (including members of
the original family on which the 'Swallows' were based) with whom he
had corresponded during the restoration. Many of them had not met each
other previously, and a year later, triggered by another restoration,
this time of the dinghy Amazon,
they went on to form the Arthur Ransome Society.
Once Nancy Blackett was fully
restored, Mike Rines put her up for sale. The newly-formed Arthur
Ransome Society was given the option to purchase, but was not then in
a financial position to do so, and so she went to another private
owner. It was when he put her on the market, in 1996, that the dream
of preserving her for posterity, and of owning her for the enjoyment
of all Arthur Ransome fans, was born.
The result was an appeal which raised the purchase price of £25,000
in five weeks, and which became the Nancy Blackett Trust. Under its
care, Nancy’s future is assured; she is sailing again, and will
remain recognisable as the boat Ransome knew and loved. In the summer
of 2002 she retraced Goblin’s
fictional route from Pin Mill to Flushing (Vlissingen) in Holland.
settled in the Lake District. He decided not to accept a position as a
full-time foreign correspondent with the Guardian and instead wrote
Swallows and Amazons in 1929 - the first of the series that made
his reputation as one of the best English writers of children's books.
apparently based the Walker children (the "Swallows") in the
book in part on the Altounyan family: he had a long-standing friendship
with the mother and Collingwood grandparents of the Altounyans. Later he
denied the connection, claiming he only gave the Altounyans' names to his
own characters; it appears to have upset him that people did not regard
the characters as original creations.
writing features very accurate descriptions of locations and activities.
His move to East Anglia brought forth a change of location for four of the
books. Ransome's own interest in sailing and need to provide an accurate
description caused him to undertake a voyage across the North Sea to
Flushing. His book We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea reflects this, and
he based the fictional "Goblin" on his own boat Nancy
Blackett (which in turn took its name from a character in the series).
(or possibly three) of the "Swallows and Amazons" books have
less realistic plots. Peter Duck originated as a story purportedly
made up by the children themselves, but Ransome dropped the introductory
passage clarifying this from the published book (though Peter Duck himself
features in Swallowdale as a character whom the children created). Peter
Duck comprises a relatively straightforward story, but with a much
more fantastic plot than the more conventional "Swallows and
trip to China as a foreign correspondent provided Ransome with the
imaginative springboard for Missee Lee, a story in which readers
find the Swallows and the Amazons sailing around the world in the schooner
Wild Cat from Peter Duck. Together with Captain Flint (the
Amazon's uncle Jim Turner), they become the captives of Chinese pirates.
controversy attaches to the final book of the series, Great Northern?.
The plot and action appear realistic, but the internal chronology does not
fit the usual run of school holiday adventures. Myles North, an admirer of
Ransome, provided much of the basic plot of the book.
THE NANCY BLACKETT TRUST
Peter Willis, Chairman
The Nancy Blackett Trust ‘Sylvan Cottage’,
White House Walk,
UK GU9 9AN
Telephone: +44 (0)1252 328187
Fax: +44 (0)1252 328187
Sheila Campbell, Membership Secretary
The Nancy Blackett Trust
‘Rosedale’, Park Road West
UK WR14 4BJ
Telephone: +44 (0)1684 573915
Fax: +44 (0)1684 893303
Tew (1912-2004) (vice-president of the Nancy Blackett Trust)
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